Does Hungary Belong in the EU?

Luxembourg’s foreign minister says no.

Jean Asselborn, Luxembourg's foreign minister (Ivan Sekretarev / AP)

NEWS BRIEF The foreign minister of Luxembourg has said in an interview that Hungary’s treatment of refugees, and the state of its judiciary and media were violations of the European Union’s fundamental values, and suggested the country should be “excluded” temporarily or forever to protect the bloc’s values.

Jean Asselborn’s remarks to Die Welt, the German newspaper, comes as all of the EU’s leaders (with the exception of the U.K.’s prime minister) meet in Slovakia on Friday to discuss the bloc’s future.

“We cannot accept that the fundamental values ​​of the European Union are being massively violated,” Asselborn said.

He cited fences erected by Hungary to keep out asylum-seekers fleeing civil war in Syria and unrest elsewhere, as well as reported violations of the freedom of press and the judiciary by the country’s right-wing government. He said because of those steps, Hungary should be “excluded temporarily or if need be for ever from the EU.” It’s the only way, he said, to “ensure that the values ​​of the EU are preserved.”

Asselborn criticized the policy of Viktor Orban, the Hungarian prime minister, suggesting the country was treating those fleeing war “worse than wild animals.” “Hungary is not far away from issuing orders to fire on refugees,” he said. “Anyone who wants to cross the fence must expect the worst.”

The comments, as you would expect, weren’t warmly welcomed in Budapest where Asselborn’s counterpart, Peter Szijjarto, suggested the Grand Duchy’s foreign minister had “long left the ranks of politicians who could be taken seriously.” Criticism also came from the foreign minister of Latvia, as well as from Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the German foreign minister, a friend of Asselborn’s and whose government is perhaps the strongest advocate for refugees in Europe. We should note here that no country has been expelled from the EU, nor can that happen without unanimity among the bloc’s 28 members.

But both Asselborn’s remarks and Hungary’s response represent the debate at the heart of the EU’s future identity. Luxembourg’s population may be tiny (about 500,000), but it occupies an outsized influence in the EU, as it was one of the six original members of the organization that became the bloc. Hungary (population about 10 million) joined the bloc in 2004, but has clashed with the EU’s original members over several issues, most notably refugees, but also over its laws governing the media and the judiciary. Similar laws—and steps against refugees—have been enacted in newer EU member states.

The issue is likely to come to a head on October 2 when Hungarians vote in a referendum on whether to accept an EU-mandated quota on distributing asylum-seekers across the bloc. Orban’s government has campaigned vociferously against the proposed quota. More than 1 million asylum-seekers have entered Europe since 2015, in the largest migrant crisis facing the continent since World War II.